Juli Hodgson’s elegant designs are the result of a process that covers all the bases—from construction right through to the interiors.
It’s no secret that ambitious design types frequently play in each other’s backyards. From architect Le Corbusier’s venture into now-iconic furniture design to Dutch furniture designer Marcel Wanders’s recent foray into prefab modern housing units, doing away with silos and labels can often lead to new wellsprings of creativity. And that’s how it’s been for designer Juli Hodgson, who took home top honours in this year’s Designer of the Year awards thanks to a rare trifecta: a debate-free, unanimous vote by all three judges. She may hold the title of Interior Designer of the Year, but Hodgson doesn’t operate in just this one field of design.
She was still in school in the mid-1980s when she took an impromptu summer job to work for Coco Cran, Calgary’s grande dame of interiors. She ended up staying for three years and then decamped to B.C., this time Victoria-bound to work under veteran builder/contractor Bill Patterson, where she honed her development chops at Città Group. “Learning the construction side of things makes designing much more seamless ,” she says. Grateful for that building experience, coupled with the design side from Cran, Hodgson moved to Vancouver to hang her own shingle. The rest is design-build history.(Photo: Martin Tessler) The well-conceived architectural form of Hodgson’s new home “feels large, with all the amenities of a big house—there’s a wine cellar, a big ensuite and walk-in closets,” she says. (Photo: Martin Tessler)In 1991, the first year after Hodgson started her business, she was hired to design and build Middle Beach Lodge in Tofino, an oceanside getaway of heavy timber and classic board-and-batten cedar siding paired with cozy Ralph Lauren-esque styling. Soon after came a longstanding gig at Aritzia, where, over a period of 16 years, she developed and designed the brand’s signature modern, pop-retro interiors. Her style has evolved, but the core DNA of her design has always remained constant: a clean, simple palette that’s long on light, short on accoutrements—an aesthetic that lets the form, whether it’s furniture or an exterior shell, stand alone. She has an “expert appreciation for the relationship of form to space at dramatically different scales,” says judge and architect Jeremy Sturgess—through which, despite a range of scales and budgets, each project is “beautifully executed and unique.” To wit: Hodgson’s own new house. A spur-of-the-moment decision to sell her Shaughnessy home on a large, leafy lot led to her next chapter. “I have six kids who transition in and out of the house with only two left full-time,” she says. “I still needed a family house, but I wanted to be more inner-city and to be able to bike to dinner.” Ultimately, she and her husband landed on a small, well-priced Kitsilano box on a smaller lot, which could be simply renovated and sold when she found the exact place she wanted. Except the Kits spot turned out to be precisely that. It’s not just its space that belies its size: passersby routinely stop and take photos of Hodgson’s all-white modern beach house just steps from the water. Its contemporary design fits into the context of the neighbourhood but is sufficiently different to inspire photographs and conversation. (Photo: Martin Tessler) “New plumbing fixtures come out all the time, but I really like to stick with Arne Jacobsen’s Vola fixtures from the 1960s,” says the designer. “He was the pioneer of modern plumbing fixtures, and his designs haven’t changed—they’re also the best quality.” (Photo: Martin Tessler) “It came about completely by fluke,” she says. “We got to designing and realized we could do something really cool because we were on a corner lot with no trees.” That little box came down to make way for a new structure—with a brand-new address, thanks to Hodgson moving the front door to the 122-foot long side of the property rather than the traditional 33-foot short side. On this smaller lot, Hodgson needed to take advantage of every square inch of usable space, both inside and outside. On one short side she placed a plunge pool, while at the opposing end—which would have been the original backyard—she built a courtyard fringed with a 12-foot hedge; the area features seamless indoor/outdoor living via 16-foot glass doors. “When you open up the glass walls on either side of the house, there’s so much cross-ventilation with those 18-foot ceilings,” she adds. “We’ve never had to turn the air conditioning on!” Indeed, as Sturgess muses, “There’s clever use of space and architectural details to exploit the interior/exterior relationship.” For the renovation of a Southlands home, Hodgson transformed it from a dark and dated French Country theme to a bright and airy urban farmhouse in harmony with the outdoors. First up: a massive fireplace flanked by two dinky exterior French doors came down to make way for Doors and Rayners’ 30 feet of folding doors. Now light bathes the interior space; the furniture and natural materials are in perfect black-and-white concert to allow for dimension and depth. “I really love black,” says Hodgson. “I like it for the same reason I like white—they’re both neutral.” Hodgson applies the principles of feng shui wherever possible, again seen in the design of this Southlands home. “We tend to use stone in every house, steel for thin profiles, wood for warmth, glass for transparency and water for well-being.” (Photo: Martin Tessler) In the Southlands house, Hodgson turned a pool utility room into a cabana, complete with an outdoor kitchen, a Mah Jong sofa and a shower. (Photo: Martin Tessler)
Although Hodgson’s exterior and interior palettes tend to be monochromatic, spaces are anything but plain or perfunctory. The three-storey concrete Durmaz house, also in Vancouver, pays homage to a spectacular view in all glass and steel without losing strong family-focused areas (media room, pool, piano room). The Adamson home—originally designed by Hodgson in 2012—received an update for new owners in an all-white palette to better showcase an extensive art collection. Its oak kitchen was removed in favour of an all-matte-white Corian kitchen—including cabinet doors and counters—with no seams or visible banding for crisp, dramatic serenity. It’s the first kitchen of its kind in Vancouver. And, finally, Hodgson’s Carnarvon renovation takes a 1960s shell into the new age with an expansive kitchen and dining room in bleached French oak wood for casual, relaxed entertaining. Black dining chairs and bright green sofas add pop to an otherwise subdued, streamlined scope.
And therein lies the crux of Hodgson’s design: neutral but dramatic, simple but sophisticated. “I try to keep it to three or four materials as I think things are easier to see and feel, and it’s easier to enjoy the space when it’s simpler,” she says. “I’m not saying I’m a pure modernist, but I don’t like having too many materials cluttering things up.” Judge Alessandro Munge of Studio Munge agrees: “Her space planning is clean, and she focuses on personality in the third dimension rather than the second.” Sturgess adds, “Her lyrical and progressive design approach is based on invention and a serious embrace of client context, which yields poetic purity.”“I don’t like decorative light fixtures," says Hodgson. "I have a problem with them as they transition out of fashion quickly.” (Photo: Carlo Ricci)